4 weeks ago

Guest: What’s next for Anniston Army Depot, Maxwell AFB, Fort Rucker?

With the approaching retirement of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), along with several new faces in Alabama’s congressional delegation, the state’s defense industry and leaders are rightly concerned about the flow of federal dollars running dry in the coming years. However, with a little under two years left of Shelby’s term and the remainder of the Alabama delegation well positioned to cement his legacy securing key defense funding for the state, it is not all doom and gloom.

This is the second of a three-article series covering the top challenges for Alabama’s state and federal leaders to ensure the state’s continued dominance as a defense industry powerhouse. While the first article focused on North Alabama and the effort to maintain U.S. Space Command’s basing in Huntsville, this article will cover the needs of the broadly defined Central Alabama defense industry.

Unlike North Alabama, Central Alabama’s defense equities are spread across a wide geographical area. For the purposes of this article, this area starts northeast of Birmingham at the Anniston Army Depot and runs as far south as Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass. The third article in this series will cover the defense issues of the Alabama Gulf Coast, which is confined to Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Central Alabama’s military and defense footprint, while less concentrated than North Alabama’s, is significant and provides a large economic impact on the state. The main challenges facing this area are consistent workload for the Anniston Army Depot, state and local-level issues that risk continued military investment in and around Montgomery, and maintaining investment and resources for Fort Rucker.

Beginning at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama’s congressional delegation will need to undertake considerable efforts to ensure continued workload for the depot. Depots are used by the Army to maintain and upgrade its equipment to meet warfighter needs and maintain U.S. military readiness. In Anniston, that has included work on critical wheeled and tracked combat vehicles including the M1 Abrams tank and the Stryker combat vehicle. Notably, Anniston Army Depot was charged with outfitting the Army’s combat vehicles with upgraded armor on their hulls to protect occupants from improvised explosive devices, a go-to weapon for insurgents and terrorists attacking American troops in the Middle East over the last two decades.

Depots live and die on the amount of workload sent to them by the Army, sometimes directed by Congress as part of policy or funding bills. When a depot lacks strong workload, it is vulnerable to being closed as part of efforts by the Army and Defense Department to streamline business practices by centralizing its footprint. Lack of workload also opens arsenals, depots and bases to the threat of base realignment and closures, commonly referred to as BRAC, by which the Defense Department systematically combines and closes installations to achieve better efficiency.

To ensure Anniston Army Depot remains safe from BRAC or other efforts to close installations, the Alabama federal representation will need to team up to continue the flow of Army vehicles sent to the depot for maintenance or upgrade.

Alabama is well position to do just that. Shelby will remain the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee which approves all funds for the military. His new colleague, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), secured a coveted position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is the chief policy committee for defense and military issues. This combination of policy and funding committee assignments positions Shelby and Tuberville well to complement each other’s efforts to support Anniston Army Depot.

Similarly, Alabama’s representatives in the House are members of both policy and funding committees covering defense. Most of all, Representative Mike Rogers (AL-03), whose district includes Anniston Army Depot, recently became the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee where he will lead GOP efforts on defense policy. He is joined on that committee by Representatives Mo Brooks (AL-05) and Jerry Carl (AL-01), who will likely be able to provide advocacy and key votes on workload for Anniston.

Additionally, Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04) holds a powerful position on the House Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee where, like Shelby, he will be able to influence funding bills for the military.

The second issue facing Central Alabama’s defense industry is not just an issue for federal lawmakers, but also state and local leaders. The Montgomery area is home to a large Air Force presence centered around Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, which hosts major training and education facilities. Maxwell is also home to the 100th Fighter Squadron, which descended from the famed Tuskegee Airmen’s “Redtails” squadron and is the future home to a squadron of F-35 stealth fighter aircraft.

However, it is not the military or federal funding that threatens the long-term viability of the Air Force footprint in Montgomery, it is the poor state of the local K-12 education system. Montgomery public schools have a well-documented history of poor academic performance, and Maxwell is ranked No. 150 out of the Air Force’s 154 installations in terms of the local public education quality. If state and local leaders fail to reverse the issues Montgomery schools face, they risk the Air Force deciding to forgo awarding future contracts or programs to Maxwell.

Leaders at the local level and the not-so-distant State House, should move quickly to determine the root causes of the underperforming schools and work to provide the necessary resources and policy changes to remedy the issues. Each passing year this issue goes unsolved, the more likely it is that the Air Force will look elsewhere at the cost of thousands of jobs and more than $1 billion in economic impact in the Montgomery area.

RELATED: Alabama House sends to Ivey’s desk legislation making Alabama more friendly to military families

The third major issue for the Central Alabama defense industry is continued investment for Fort Rucker. With the retirement of former Representative Marth Roby (AL-02), who served on the House Armed Services Committee, and newly elected Representative Barry Moore (AL-02) lacking a seat on that committee, Fort Rucker lost a key supporter at the federal level. Moore can still work with Representatives Rogers and Carl to advocate Fort Rucker’s needs, but the loss of Roby has the delegation fighting with one hand behind its back.

Fort Rucker is the primary training location for the Army’s rotary-wing (helicopter) pilots. This designation requires large swaths of training territory, maintenance funds and investment in emerging technologies to protect the Army’s reputation as the world’s preeminent air assault and rotary transportation force. This has never been more important than now as the Army seeks an eventually replacements for its Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, which will require additional resources at Fort Rucker to field and train Army pilots on the new systems.

Rogers, Moore and Carl, whose combined district residents primarily staff Fort Rucker, will need to work in close coordination with their Senate colleagues to secure Fort Rucker’s continued leadership in these areas.

The Central Alabama defense industry’s future, and that of the entire state, rests in the seniority and numbers of its federal representation on key committees. Shelby and Rogers’ respective leadership roles on the appropriations and armed services committees, combined with Tuberville, Brooks, Carl and Aderholt’s strategic positions in Washington, leave Alabama in a great position to succeed. The challenge will be coordinating the efforts across the delegation to ensure maximum success of their legislative efforts, which can be difficult and uncommon in the politically charged, frantically busy halls of the Capitol and congressional offices.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

2 hours ago

7 Things: Ivey says not to panic-buy gas, companies in Alabama need workers, border chaos must be addressed and more …

7. History will not remember Liz Cheney’s leadership position 

  • U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is on the cusp of being ousted by her fellow House Republicans, and the American media has declared this to be a pivotal moment in American history, which it clearly is not. Proving why she is being removed, Cheney spent her last full day in leadership rehashing the U. S. Capitol riots and talking about former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) highlighted this when citing why his “friend” needed to go. He advised, “[S]he has made a decision that she is going to use her position as conference chairman not to just promote the position and point out the shortcomings of the Democrat majority and the Biden administration, but rather continue to relitigate what happened on January 6. It is not the job of conference chairman. It is to be the voice of our conference in talking about why we ought to be in the majority and why this majority is wrongheaded, the administration is not doing what the country needs.”

6. Rockets hit Israel, Israel hits back 

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  • In the latest round of Middle East violence, the terrorist group Hamas began shooting rockets into populated areas of Israeli cities with the support of Palestinian leadership. The Israeli military responded by launching targeted attacks on the leadership of Hamas and at rocket sites. Obviously, civilians are caught in the crossfire, again.
  • The American media seems somewhat unnerved by Israel’s defensive capabilities and uneven death toll, but they seem to be hellbent on ignoring the fact that the death toll is only low on the Israeli side because they are able to retard Hamas’ attacks.

5. Schumer wants to legalize marijuana 

  • U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is planning to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana and expunge records of those who have been convicted of possession.
  • Schumer specifically said, “It is not just legalization but a deal for the injustices of the past expungement of the records making sure that the money that’s made from marijuana goes to the communities, communities of color, poor people communities, that have paid the price for this ridiculous scheduling of marijuana.”

4. Kids 12-15 could get vaccinated in Alabama this week 

  • The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on those 12 to 15-years-old, and now it could be approved for use in Alabama by Thursday.
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham vaccination clinics are planning to provide the doses to younger age groups by Thursday if the vaccine is approved for use by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today.

3. Secure the border 

  • Governor Kay Ivey and 19 other governors have signed a letter together demanding that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris address the crisis at the southern border. The letter points out that there have been “172,000 encounters in March, the highest number in nearly 20 years, as well as 18,890 unaccompanied children, the largest monthly number in history.”
  • The letter goes on to say, “The crisis is too big to ignore and is now spilling over the border states into all of our states.” They directly blame Biden’s administration and policy decisions for the surge.

2. There are jobs out there 

  • After it was announced that Alabama would be withdrawing participation from federal unemployment benefits, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released a report showing that there’s a record number of job openings.
  • In the report, 31% of businesses say they’ve raised wages and 20% will increase compensation within the next few months. In addition, there’s currently a record 44% of businesses reporting job openings.

1. Ivey: Stop panic buying gas

  • The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack has led to many in the Southeast panic buying gasoline, and now Governor Kay Ivey is urging people to stop panic buying, as this could result in even more issues.
  • Ivey stated, “Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!”

3 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Rogers on Liz Cheney ouster: ‘We’ve got to be fighting today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights, and not the fight of yesterday’

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to be voted out of her position as House Republican Conference chairwoman, the third-ranking member of the House Republican caucus, and be replaced with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

The move by Republicans has drawn very vocal reactions from the media and other Democrats, who allege that Cheney’s removal is a product of the GOP’s blind allegiance to former President Donald Trump. Cheney had been a frequent critic of the 45th president and remained so beyond his presidency.

During an interview that aired on Tuesday’s broadcast of Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Service Committee, called Cheney “a close friend,” but acknowledged her comments about the January 6 incident on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. had a lot to do with her ouster. He argued Cheney should have had a more forward-looking focus in her leadership role.

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“Everybody sees it coming,” he said. “Liz is a close friend of mine, but she has made a decision that she is going to use her position as conference chairman not to just promote the position and point out the shortcomings of the Democrat majority and the Biden administration, but rather continue to relitigate what happened on January 6. It is not the job of conference chairman. It is to be the voice of our conference in talking about why we ought to be in the majority and why this majority is wrongheaded, the administration is not doing what the country needs. She has made this conscious choice. You know, we had a vote on this back. I think it was in February. And she survived. And everybody told her then, ‘We don’t care how you vote on the impeachment or any of that. That’s all behind us. You need to be talking about the conference goals and agenda.'”

“That’s what that position is all about,” Rogers added. “She has chosen not to do that. I fully expect [tomorrow] she is going to be recalled, and Elise Stefanik is going to be put in that position because we’ve got to be fighting today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights, and not the fight of yesterday. She just won’t turn loose of it. Now at this point, because she’s my buddy, and I hate that she’s taking this course of action — but she’s a very smart lady, and this is a conscious decision on her part.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

17 hours ago

How the Regions Tradition led to Alabama’s star-studded vaccine PSAs

You already know the Regions Tradition’s reputation for competition. It’s the first major on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule in 2021, and it produces millions for charities.

But it’s also the place where things get done. And this year’s focus was intended to save lives.

The Bruno Event Team, which manages the Tradition, and the Alabama Department of Public Health used the annual Celebrity Pro-Am tournament as a stage to create a public awareness campaign encouraging Alabamians to get the COVID vaccine ASAP.

The idea, the pitch and the execution all came together in a week. And when approached, the centerpiece of the project agreed to participate without hesitation.

The centerpiece?

Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

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RELATED: College football’s biggest names turn out for 2021 Regions Tradition Celebrity Pro-Am

“Research told us you don’t use national celebrities,” said Gene Hallman of the Bruno Event Team, which produced the spots. “You use local doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. Or you use local celebrities. And in this state, no one is better known than Coach Saban.”

In fact, according to a Montgomery pollster the Bruno team consulted, there’s no one more respected throughout the state than Saban. John Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal that Saban’s favorability rating is the highest in the state – 77 percent. That means that even Auburn fans who root against him each week still respect him.

Or, as Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal, “He is a God.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health reached out to the Bruno team to create a marketing campaign for the state’s underserved population, intending for the spots to motivate Black, Latino and tribal populations to get the vaccines. The public awareness videos will run on television and radio stations statewide, as well as on social media.

But as the campaign expanded, the goalpost moved. With federal and state grants provided for that specific reason, “we’re going to try to reach a very broad audience – the entire state,” Hallman said. “We’re not hammering people. We just want to provide an education on the science of the vaccine, so people can make an informed decision.”

And, since it’s Alabama, there’s also another lure: the opportunity to pack college football stadiums at 100% capacity next fall if enough people get vaccinated.

It’s not the first time the tournament known as the Regions Tradition proved to be a catalyst for change.

When the Champions Tour first came to Birmingham in 1992, Hallman’s group was called in to help with a very hush-hush operation. They were told an unnamed group of visitors from Europe, interested in bringing business to the U.S., would be coming to town to see what Alabama had to offer. No other information was provided, but they were to be shown a good time.

Only one problem.

The first tournament was held in August, a notoriously bad time for southern hospitality – at least for people used to cooler weather than the notorious sticky, 100-degree days. But, as luck would have it, an unusual cold front swept in at the start of the tournament, providing record low temperatures that created perfect temps for the visitors.

So, the secret entourage spent a week at the tournament, got to meet popular Champions Tour legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, and spent a day touring a large plot of land outside Tuscaloosa, less than an hour away …  land that would eventually become the site of Alabama’s first automotive manufacturing plant.

As for the vaccine spots, once Saban came on board others followed. The list includes an NBA legend, a college conference commissioner, a U.S. Senator and other coaches. All recorded their parts while participating in the Regions Tradition Pro-Am.

“We asked and they answered in two seconds,” Hallman said. “There was no hesitation. We got them all on camera that day.”

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

17 hours ago

Governor Ivey urges Alabamians not to panic-buy gas

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday spoke with the U.S. Department of Energy on a call regarding the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which has caused a shutdown of the pipeline operations.

The pipeline, which is the largest system for refined oil products in the United States, is 5,500 miles long and can carry 3 million barrels of fuel per day between Texas and New York. It is operated by Colonial Pipeline Company, which is headquartered in Georgia.

The pipeline runs through Alabama, as people may remember from a Shelby County leak in 2016 that caused gas shortages in the region. The county is home to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm.

However, Ivey wants to assure Alabamians that the temporary pipeline shutdown should be resolved in the coming days and that any potential gas shortages have not reached the Yellowhammer State.

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“Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!” Ivey said in a social media post.

The governor’s spokesperson reiterated Ivey’s message.

“She was assured that the pipeline should be operational in a few days,” said Gina Maiola. “She is urging Alabamians and others to not panic and to use good judgement. A shortage has not reached Alabama at this time, and she reminds us that an overreaction would only lead to that. Be courteous, only fill up if you need to, and do not fill up multiple containers. Governor Ivey urges patience and common sense.”

Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden echoed Ivey’s words.

“While the state of Alabama is fortunate to this point to not be suffering from gas shortages, there have still been reports of panic-buying and gas price increases,” he said in a statement. “I echo Governor Ivey’s request that Alabama residents refrain from panic-buying, which would only cause more anxiety in the market. As Colonial has stated publicly they are working vigorously to reestablish service.”

The Colonial Pipeline shutdown comes as the average price of gas in the U.S. has risen from $2.112 per gallon before President Joe Biden was elected to $2.985 per gallon this week.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 hours ago

Vocational center for construction, electric vehicle, aviation technology fields coming to DeKalb County

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a $1 million grant to help the Fort Payne Board of Education construct a new vocational center aimed at training students in careers that include construction, electric vehicle and aviation technologies.

The funds come from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

The new DeKalb County vocation center will prepare Fort Payne high school students and adults for the future while helping to meet the needs of Alabama’s workforce in several career fields.

“Alabama is sounding the call for a skilled workforce and the Fort Payne Board of Education is responding to that demand,” Ivey said in a statement. “This program will ensure that students graduating from high school will be ready for rewarding and high-paying jobs, and that employers will be hiring a qualified workforce to move our state forward.”

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RELATED: Guest: Electric vehicles important for Alabama’s automotive industry

The new Building, Electric and Aviation Technology Center will provide students with a rigorous training program in a workplace environment to ready them for careers.

“The path to rewarding careers does not always go through colleges and universities,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell added. “I applaud the Fort Payne Board of Education for offering other options for students who have the same dreams for successful careers but choose a different path to get there.”

The project is supported by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro), who chairs the Alabama Space Authority and the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn